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The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - imperial project or security effort?

The Montreal Review, January, 2010

The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan are not imperial projects. They are primarily security efforts.

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There are loud voices in media who argue that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which the U.S. is waging in the recent decade, are imperial offensives. The power and influence that America has today can be connected easily with the argument that the United States is an imperial power. But the idea of America as a traditoinal imperial power is more a cliché than truth. Yet what is America on the international stage is still an interesting question. If America is really an imperial power, are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan an expression of imperial interest?

Power

The idea of imperialism rests on two basic premises. The first one is the power. If a state or a nation possesses big military, economic, political and cultural power, it inevitably will begin to influence or overshadow the neighboring nations. Power is often regarded as a threat. In the international system, which is an anarchical environment without rules and law, where the power is a king, many of the weaker nations will consider the rising state as a danger for their sovereignty, well-being and future. In history, we have numerous examples of states that gradually become powerful and gradually submit the world under their will. These are the Roman Empire, the Habsburgs, the Ottoman Empire, etc. But there are nuances, which are not so often marked in the political analyses of the imperial development. For example, many of the maritime empires grow in areas that are sparely populated and with very backward political organization. The British, for example, did not expand to continental Europe. From fifteen - sixteen century onward the European imperialism was expanding overseas. Every powerful state - Napoleon's France, Hitler's Germany, Soviet Russia - that attempted to expand its influence over the continent failed. It failed because the combined power of the surrounding states and their allies was bigger than the power of the hegemonic aggressor. In today's world, we see how states achieve a relatively stable balance of power (similar to this in XIX century's Europe) that covers the entire globe and this leaves little room for aggressive action and expansion. So the traditional view of the excessive power as equal to the imperialistic threat cannot be applied anymore. The world today is like the European continent after the Napoleonic wars - nobody would start a major war without risking a defeat, the Germans did this twice and failed. The lesson of both great wars of XX century is still alive. Today the imperial conflict, or direct expansion, can be possible only in places that are unable to win support from the others. Such places are Afghanistan and Iraq. This means that America could be qualified as imperial power acting in backward politically and economically regions unable to win allies. But is America a real imperial power?

Profit

The second basic premise for the presence of imperialism is profit. In the Marxist and Leninist theory, the powerful center exploits the weaker periphery. The exploitation can be total or partial. The center, or imperial power, needs raw materials and markets to which it sells its economic surplus. Nowadays the center can exploit the periphery trough buying cheap raw products, using the cheap labour in the subjected nations, and selling high technologies. We can argue, for example, that the West uses the cheap Chinese labour to feed its enormous domestic consumption. But China is a powerful state. We cannot say that it is under Western dominance. It is the primary moneylender for the U.S. However we can say that the Chinese population is a victim in the hands of the local economic and political establishment and the Western interest. People, living in West, profit from the cheap labour and products of the Chinese work force. They profit because the local leaders and elites allow this. But what do Iraq and Afghanistan give to the United States? Cheap labour? Natural resources? Money? Market? None of the mentioned.

The critics say that the 2003 U. S. invasion of Iraq is because of the oil resources of the country. In the end of 2009, we are seeing no major American company that wins concession for development of Iraqis' oil reserves. In December 2009, the Russian company Lukoil won the concession for the biggest oil field in Iraq "West Qurna - 2." Iraqis have done oil deals with Chinese, Europeans and Russians.

The invasion of Afghanistan is even less understandable from imperial point of view. Yes, this is a backward region, but it cannot offer resources and profits of any kind but security.

The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan are not imperial projects. They are primarily security efforts. Whether these wars are clever responses to the radical Islam and terrorist threat is a question that needs more serious investigation.

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Letters to the Editor:

Support the deserters, not the troops!

Jeff Rey

One thing overlooked in your conclusion is the security of supply. To suggest that our troops are there because of the threat of terrorism is laughable; Iraq was as religious as modern day Quebec and was often threatened by neighbouring states for its liberalism. To date, the notion of WMD has been unfounded. As for Afghanistan, although a base of operations, none of the masterminds have originated from here... | read more |
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